Montrealer Eric Lane has been living in what authorities call unhealthy and unsafe conditions for the past four months, even though the City flagged his apartment more than a year ago as needing major repairs and renovations.
Lane shares a 3 ½ apartment with a roommate in a block of run-down buildings on Ranger Street in Ahuntsic-Cartierville.
He says he can barely afford to pay for his half the $720 a month rent.
Outside his building, a heap of mattresses and garbage is piled on the ground. Inside, the paint on Lane’s bathroom ceiling is peeling off, there are tiles missing from his bathroom walls and floor.
He says the bed bugs are so bad, he sleeps during the day because otherwise they cover his body at night and prick him like needles.
Landlords are prohibited from allowing tenants to live in these types of conditions, according to the City of Montreal’s bylaw on housing hygiene, maintenance and safety.
Tenants’ rights advocates say City of Montreal too slow to act
People like Lane are willing to live in such decrepit conditions because they have no choice, according to the Ahuntsic-Cartierville tenants’ association (CLAC).
“He’s accepting to live with bedbugs and it’s not because he has the choice. He needs a place to stay,” says Patrice Sansregret, a community organizer with CLAC.
Sansregret says the city doesn’t do enough to force landlords to maintain their properties and address issues quickly, which leaves vulnerable tenants like Lane unprotected.
“[The landlord] was not taking care of his buildings, he was taking the money of the tenant every month for the rent and they were in really miserable conditions of living,” Sansregret says.
Russell Copeman, the city’s executive committee member responsible for housing, admits Lane’s living conditions are “unacceptable.”
He says his office does its best to prevent those types of situations.
“We do stop them when the safety and the health of the tenants are threatened.”
City knew about Ranger Street living conditions since 2009
The city has been aware of these conditions since 2009, when the borough inspectors office asked the city centre to intervene with three addresses on Ranger Street — 11750, 11760, 11815 — all owned by the same landlord, Guoji Shan.
Tenants in those buildings were living with a range of issues, including mould, vermin and a general state of disrepair.
After several series of inspections, non-compliance notices and follow-ups, the city sat down with the landlord in 2013 to discuss a large-scale evacuation plan for 86 apartments at his three properties.
City officials decided to carry out the evacuations in three waves (from most urgent to least).
Lane moved into apartment slated for evacuation
Lane found out by surprise at the start of September that his latest apartment would be part of the final wave of evacuations, even though his landlord has known for more than a year.
He had been living in another apartment in the building until recently, but it was too expensive, so the landlord let Lane move into another unit over the summer.
Lane says he had no idea he would be forced to leave about four months later.
Two weeks after he received the evacuation notice, CBC News visited Lane. At the time, he was afraid he could end up living on the streets.
“It’s just not enough time … I’m frustrated. I just don’t know what to do,” he said.
According to the City of Montreal, tenants in Lane’s situation are always offered the option of emergency subsidized housing.
But when the tenants’ association and CBC News visited him two weeks after he received his latest evacuation notice, Lane was worried he’d end up on the streets.
When Sansregret asked him what his plans were, Lane said “Throw my stuff in storage, and try and find someone to take me in until I can find another apartment.”
That’s when Sansregret explained to Lane he should be eligible for subsidized housing.
The past few weeks of waiting and worrying have been a nightmare for Lane,
“With the income he makes and because he’s been evacuated by the city, we think he should have low-rent habitation,” Sansregret says.
“He has all the qualities to get a subsidized apartment, but it’s not in my control. It’s the City,”
The landlord, Guoji Shan, refused an on-camera interview, but did answer a few questions on the phone.
He said he doesn’t see anything wrong with asking someone to leave while he does renovations.
“The apartment is not renovated … tenants knew that … So now we ask them to move out to be able to do renovations.”
When CBC News asked Shan why he didn’t properly maintain his buildings, and allowed them to fall into such a state of disrepair, he said:
“When the house become older, you need to do renovations, that’s normal.”
Shan says all the renovations should be completed by the end of 2014.
CBC Montreal Investigates
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